brian 's Reviews > Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes
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Sep 07, 2008

it was ok

i almost like your book. almost. it's a fun synthesis of a bunch of death related topics, there're some great historical and personal anecdotes, tons of interesting hypothetical situations and philosophical either/ors... but i object to your britishness, y'know? that whole mannered and clever and cautious thing...? this is death, man! the end! finito! skull and crossbones! grim reaper! "nothing more terrible, nothing more true!"

sure, there are gems throughout, but ultimately your book about death is nothing more than a breezy series of thematically similar essays. you need to re-read tolstoy's confessions, okay? y'know what i'm talking about: "the only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless." tormented with the absolute knowledge that his words & life were nothing but a bunch of meaningless blather and bloviation, he attacked his work with such terrible anger and honesty and foolishness and fury that, ironically, over a century later his books do exist and do matter... (of course, they'll only end up mattering for a blip in the face of eternity; only until the uncaring universe does away with all these pink and brown fleshy bundles of neurons and synapses...)

from larkin's aubade:

Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.


from the old fools:

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
Why aren't they screaming?


larkin was a brit, of course, and he laid it all out there, put his tight, puckered ass on the line. and ernest becker's the denial of death? whew... an unflinching gaZe directly into the hollowed-out eye sockets of that cloaked and bony motherfucker, with a quick turn of the head to us, to all of us, with the grim message that it's death that lies at the bottom of everything that we are and everything that we do. and even becker, an academic and psychologist, writes with the urgency and despair that the subject calls for:

"He is a miserable animal whose body decays, who will die, who will pass into dust and oblivion, disappear not only forever in this world but in all possible dimensions of the universe, whose life serves no conceivable purpose, who may as well not have been born."

ah... maybe i'm too serious, too dour, too grim, too unsmiling. maybe i should lighten up and not only include the demented and absurd and black into my personal 'panthanatheon'... maybe i oughtta let in some of the charming and clever and slight...? but, no. no way. fuck that. if you're gonna get into it with the ol' reaping bastard, ya gotta play dirty: kick the bastard in the balls, a nice knee to the stomach. you don't wanna sit down for tea with the thieving bastard.
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10/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 07, 2008 02:00PM) (new)

but i object to your britishness, y'know what i mean? that whole being mannered and clever and cautious thing.

Exactly. People who are too at peace with death come in three varieties:

1. The Stupid.
2. The Delusional.
3. The Assholes.

Although these categories are not mutually exclusive.


message 2: by Tosh (new)

Tosh This review is very non-Noel Coward like! Death is the ultimate cocktail party. It's the future that will come. Why even think about it?


message 3: by brian (last edited Sep 07, 2008 02:12PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   i hope you're right, tosh, but only if the cocktail party is super exclusive. if i hadda spend eternity with all those who, while here on earth, were true believers and have 'em constantly toast me with an 'i told you so' twinkle in their eye... i think i'd prefer the abyss.




message 4: by Tosh (new)

Tosh i think Death is really 'nothing.' The big sleep without the dreams. I think it will be ok.


message 5: by brian (last edited Sep 07, 2008 02:51PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   so you fall into all three of david's categories...

yay tosh!


message 6: by Tosh (new)

Tosh No, it means he knows something that I don't know. Death to me is only a reminder that i have to do more stuff before the big nap.


message 7: by brian (last edited Sep 07, 2008 03:53PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   "And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round."


message 8: by Tosh (new)

Tosh And that is an quotation from...


message 9: by brian (last edited Sep 07, 2008 04:25PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   same as the above. larkin's aubade... go-to guy for any thanaquotes. and best poet of the 20th century! and dead! and a guest of honor at my heavenly or hellacious cocktail party!


message 10: by Tosh (new)

Tosh Do you think about 'death?" I think about suicide, but only as an act of defiance of some sort. Not out of pain or misery, but in a sense that Mishima went through that route.

It's a strange thing to do, because in how it affects the living. Death is not that isolated. Sort of like playing the house of cards. You take one card, and it affects the entire structure.

But death itself is really nothing. It's what you do while you are alive is the most important. And I chose not to fear the unknown in that sense.


message 11: by Rachel (new)

Rachel This kind of reminds me of my reaction to that Jessica Mitford book about the American funeral industry. She was basically like, "everything would be so much better if we would just use common sense," i.e. if we would just do away with funerary rituals and pretend nothing bad is happening when people die. To me this outlook seems annoyingly British.


message 12: by Jessica (new)

Jessica This death thing sounds so awful! I just always console myself with the thought that something so terrible could never actually happen to me.


message 13: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I am also comforted by this. I would be beside myself if you ever died.


message 14: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Splendid review. As a person of indelible Britishness myself, I would like to put in a feeble defence of my nation's perceived sang froid and say under the surface we're bubbling with passion and angst but I can't really be arsed. Actually, I think it's the dying that scares me, not the being dead. But surely, aren't there two equally horrific ideas here : one, that there's nothing after we die, nothing at all, and we are utterly radically eradicated; and two, that there's something.


message 15: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I haven't read this yet, but since I found Barnes too breezy and detached when handling a slight topic like Snobs, I can't imagine I'd enjoy his riffs on a deeper subject.


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